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Thursday, March 19, 2015

My Top 10 Favorite Naruto Fights

            As promised last time, I return to the wide world of shinobi to list my top 10 favorite fights in Naruto.  Being a Shonen action/adventure/fantasy manga, Naruto was always, of course, filled to the brim with fights and battles, ranging from one-on-one showdowns to a whole-scale war between huge armies.  And for the most part, I loved it when we got them.  How could I not?  Warriors with the ability to reshape the earth around them (not dissimilar to Avatar in that respect) hurling all manner of weapons and superpowers at each other, some of them incredibly creative, combined with brilliant on-the-spot stratagems and a harsh narrative tone that emphasized the emptiness of death after a life spent fighting- what’s not to love? 

            But which were the best ones?  The ones that stood out from all the rest, the ones that avoided the visual confusion of the later war or that succeeded in advancing the story in a meaningful way?  The ones that went above and beyond in showing cool powers or tricks, or that had an ending that did not make we want to smack my head into a brick wall and scream bloody murder?  After much thought, I sure know the ones that did it all for me. 

            Before we begin, a dishonorable mention goes to the hugely-hyped-up fight between Itachi and Sasuke.  After all of the build-up we got to this moment, the entire reason Sasuke turned dark in the first place, we not only went out with Itachi, one of the coolest characters in the entire franchise, drop dead from an illness not once hinted at previously, but also get the start of the awful trend of Sasuke getting his ass kicked in every battle, yet somehow surviving on a technicality (or just getting saved by others).  Ugh. 

            With that out of the way, on to the positive stuff!  Whenever possible, I have tried to find videos of at least somewhat-decent quality to aid a search for the fights, if you have not yet seen them yourself. 

**a note regarding the video clips.  I tried to find the best quality Japanese versions on Youtube to give a sense of the action, but if you really want to appreciate the full scope of each battle, I recommend digging up and watching the full episodes with each fight.  They are all worth the effort**

10. Sakura & Chiyo vs. Sasori

            I came very close to putting the fight between Guy and Kisame from the same arc on here, since it too is fantastic, but ended up pushing it off and picking this one mostly because this battle ended up carrying a lot more emotional weight.  Consider Kisame/Guy a very honorable mention.  Plus, Sakura deserves to be on this list somewhere. 

            A big part of what made this battle so excellent was how different it was from most.  While the different types of jutsu used most of the time tended to blend together after a while, the puppet techniques remained some of the most unique (and creepy- that chittering sound they make will never leave me in peace), and this was the lone battle we got with half a freaking army of them being thrown at each other. 

9. Killberbee/8-Tails vs. Sasuke & Co.

            Yeeeaaaaah, I won’t blame anyone who hated Killerbee’s character for being a touch on the racist (or at least heavily stereotypical) side.  Even if you hate him, though, there’s no hating his fantastic use of swords in this fight, and the 8-Tails may very well be my favorite of all the Tailed Beast designs, mixing a massive octopus with a longhorn bull.  Now that’s MY kind of insane monster design. 

            Plus, it features Sasuke being absolutely destroyed by an opponent he completely underestimated.  Kind of a pattern with him. 

8. The 5 Kages vs. Sasuke

            And speaking of Sasuke being destroyed by opponents because he totally overestimated his own strength! 

            I already spoke a bit about why I loved the 5-Kage Summit as a whole in my last post, and a big, BIG reason for that was due to how, in addition to getting some great bits of world-building and meeting some fantastic new characters, we also got to see each of the Kages show off their tremendous powers by beating Sasuke to a pulp.  It all culminates in the hilarious and cathartic image of an unconscious Sasuke slumped on Tobi’s shoulder. 

7. The 5 Kages vs. Madara

            The war at the end of Naruto began to feel needlessly dragged out, and the battles way too stupidly over-powered, way too fast.  For my money though, it was all worth it when we got to see all 5 Kages lined up against Madara Uchiha himself, each bringing out literally every power in their arsenal and combining them in fantastic ways.  Sadly, I felt compelled to take points off (thus bumping it down this list) mostly because of how unbelievably stupid Madara’s powers ended up being, especially the horrid cop-out of an ending that let Madara throw off the jutsu to end the resurrection with what amounted to a measly flick of his wrist. 

6. Gaara vs. Naruto/Sasuke (Chuunin Exam Arc)

             This one was a hard, hard choice.  This is one of three iconic fights from this arc, the other two being Naruto vs. Neji and Gaara vs. Rock Lee (both of them part of the official exam itself and not the invasion that follows).  Those two join Guy vs. Kisame in the honorable mention category.  I suppose I ended up picking this last one mostly because, in addition to Naruto’s fight with Neji, it is the first real affirmation of Naruto’s choices as a shinobi and as a person- a scrappy fighter able to win by straight-up out-crazying his opponents, but also a truly compassionate person, who’s lack of vengeful or spiteful feelings towards everyone and anyone allow him to turn former enemies into friends and allies later on (much like Luffy, but that is a comparison I will flesh out another time).  Given Gaara’s later importance to the overall series, the end of this fight becomes a key moment.  Plus, I always loved seeing the frogs fight. 

5. Zabuza vs. Kakashi (both parts)

            This would eventually be outpaced in terms of its size, grandeur, and narrative importance by many, many other battles in the show, including a few from the Chunnin exam shortly afterwards.  Despite that, this one will still always stand out prominently in my mind, simple because it was the first real, deadly serious fight between elite ninja that we got to experience, and like with the arc itself, it set a considerable amount of the tone and standards for fights in the rest of the series, especially in how big superpower attacks took a backseat to the use of clever stratagems to keep one’s opponent off-guard. 

            Plus, it firmly established Kakashi as the gold standard for Effing Bad-Assery.  So, there’s that too. 

4. Naruto vs. Pain

            This battle marked the big turning point for Naruto as a character, where he officially established himself as a legitimate warrior, and not just a brash, idiotic kid with enough raw power to just scrape by.  Naruto’s relative ineffectiveness as a fighter had been a mainstay of both the original series and an awful lot of Shippuden (Jiraiya really didn’t seem to teach him all that much during their time training together).  He was simply never a stand-alone threat to any of the major villains.  However, if the series really was to follow through on having him realize his dream of becoming Hokage, the switch had to occur somewhere, and when we finally get it here, it proves well-worth the wait.  It’s a perfect mix of the use of powerful elemental techniques with the sleight-of-hand trickery that had always been a mainstay in Naruto, and the final climax outside the village is one of the best and most satisfying endings to a fight in the entire series.  It also included Hinata declaring her love for Naruto, which might have melted my heart.  Just a little. 

            Damnit Hinata, you really did deserve better.  Why couldn’t Kishimoto have stuck you with Shikimaru? 

3. Danzo vs. Sasuke   

**For some reason, linking would not work for this one.  No matter.  Here is the URL**

            I already listed Danzo’s death as one of my favorite moments in the overall story of Naruto, but a big reason it resonated so much with me was that it came at the tail end of one of the best 10-chapter spreads of combat in the entire series.  And no, I am NOT just saying that because Sasuke got himself Yamcha’d for the umpteenth time (although that certainly helped).  No, the fight itself really was incredibly tense to follow, mostly due to the Izanagi Sharingan technique it introduces.  An incredibly clever and interesting idea, namely that it can allow someone to briefly negate their own death, and one where Kishimoto firmly stuck to the price of using the technique for more than a few moments at a time.  Plus, even though I started off the fight still hating Danzo’s bandaged guts, it was pretty friggin’ awesome seeing him whip out an arm literally covered in Sharingans.  And then proceed to beat the crap out of Sasuke.  Which never gets old. 

2. Shikamaru/Naruto/Kakashi/Choji/Ino vs. Hidan/Kakuzu

            Shikamaru’s crowning moment as a character, this topped off one of the last great arcs of the second-half of Naruto.  Determined to avenge the death of their teacher at the hands of the “Zombie Brothers” of Akatsuki, Ino, Choji, and Shikamaru ask Kakashi to step in as their leader to help them track Hidan and Kakuzu down and eliminate them.  We get to see Kakashi in extended action again, and the end of the fight with Kakuzu features the unveiling of Naruto’s new signature technique, the Rasenshuriken, but what makes this one stand apart from all others is the brilliant and multi-layered ploy Shikamaru develops specifically to handle Hidan’s immortality and seal him away forever.  It is his high-water mark as a warrior and a strategist (although he acquits himself well in the war later on), and is one of the most emotional character moments in the entire story. 

1. Naruto vs. Sasuke (the original)

            I suppose the series set itself up for some disappointment with the end after this fight, because it would have been extremely hard to top this battle even if Kishimoto had not started sabotaging his own story long before it ended.  As the culmination of the first part of Naruto, which functions much better as a tightly-contained storyline than the second half does, there was no other battle as emotionally fraught as this one, with two boys forced to confront their admiration for each other, yet still feeling compelled to fight to the death.  Sasuke never again succeeded in being a compelling character, while Naruto actually went on to get more interesting by the end, so as far as their interactions as characters went, this was the greatest height achieved.  And what a height it was.  Great action, brilliantly animated, and brimming with tension, it is my personal favorite of all the fights in Naruto

            Thus ends Part 2 of my Naruto look-back.  Soon to come, the third and final installment, followed by a special announcement for April.  Stay tuned. 

-Noah Franc 

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